A vet has been accused of turning puppies into drug mules for a Colombian trafficking ring by stitching bags of liquid heroin inside the dogs.
Andres Lopez Elorza, 38, pleaded not guilty in federal court in New York to charges that he used the animals as drug smugglers.
After becoming a fugitive, he was extradited back to the US from Spain after being arrested there in 2015, and is being held without bail.
Elorza, who also goes by the name Lopez Elorez, became a fugitive in 2005 when authorities arrested about two dozen suspected traffickers in Colombia.
Before he fled, the defendant had “gained some notoriety” from accusations he was part of a scheme that turned puppies and dogs into “animal couriers” by stitching packets of liquid heroin into their bodies, assistant US attorney Nathan Reilly said on Tuesday.
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It is believed the dogs were sent on commercial flights to New York City, where the drugs were then cut out of them, authorities said.
Investigators believe the puppies would have died in the process, but it was unknown how many were involved.
“Over time, drug organisations’ unquenchable thirst for profit leads them to do unthinkable crimes like using innocent puppies for drug concealment,” said James J Hunt, head of the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s New York office.
US attorney Richard Donoghue said: “Dogs are man’s best friend and, as the defendant is about to learn, we are drug dealers’ worst enemy.”
A total of 10 puppies were found during a raid on a farm in Colombia in 2005, DEA officials said.
Five ended up running away, three died from infection and two were adopted, including one that became a drug-sniffing dog for Colombian police.
Elorza was born in Colombia but claims Venezuelan citizenship, authorities said.